Beyond Midnight

A Charmed Place

Dream a Little Dream

Keepsake

 
Safe Harbor by Antoinette Stockenberg
(St. Martin’s, $6,50, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97306-3
****
“Holly Anderson’s birthday surprise turned out to be a two-by-four over the head.”

From this grabber of a first line I was caught up by Antoinette Stockenberg’s new contemporary romance. A good online buddy of mine has been singing the praises of this author for over a year now which means, of course, that I have been buying Stockenberg’s books regularly. However, given the magnitude of my to-be-read pile, they sit forlornly on my bookshelf. Not for long. This woman can write.

The two-by-four is Holly’s mother’s announcement that her sixty-two year old father has asked for a divorce because he has fallen in love with thirty-year-old Eden Walker. Eden had rented the loft apartment over folk artist Holly’s studio on Martha’s Vineyard and had thus wormed her way into the Anderson family. Now she and Eric Anderson have sailed off on his sailboat, the Vixen, leaving a shattered wife and daughter behind.

The scene shifts to New Bedford where marine photographer Sam Steadman is visiting his adopted parents. Millie and Jim clearly have something on their minds. Seven years ago, Sam had come home one day to find his wife of one year, Eden, gone and the police asking all sorts of questions. It turns out that Eden had stolen a nice old lady’s nest egg and scrammed. Sam had searched for his errant wife with no luck. Millie and Jim had never told their son that Eden had turned up at their house occasionally to “borrow” money from the generous couple. Three weeks earlier, Eden had happened to arrive when Millie and Jim discovered that an old engraving they had inherited from an uncle just might be a Durer. She volunteered to take the picture to New York and get it appraised. Nothing had been heard from her since.

A furious Sam traces Eden to Martha’s Vineyard and sets off to recover the engraving. Thus, he meets Holly and discovers what Eden has done to the Anderson family. Sam needs Holly’s help to try to find Eden and the Vixen. Thus our hero and heroine meet.

The romance in Safe Harbor is most enjoyable. Holly is a warm and spontaneous woman, open and caring and quite the opposite of Sam’s first love. Sam, something of a rough diamond, had been rescued by the Steadmans and his talent for photography. He had never quite gotten over Eden, but Holly shows him a new kind of love. Of course, Eden’s existence complicates their relationship.

Eden is just one of a host of interesting secondary characters with whom Stockenberg enriches her story. She is certainly one of the most memorable villains I have encountered lately; beautiful, seductive, charming, and completely selfish and amoral, she is completely willing to use and abuse anyone and everyone.

Equally well drawn are Holly’s mother and father. The former’s reaction to the collapse of her marriage is portrayed with both sympathy and realism. Yet Stockenberg, while not condoning Eric Anderson’s behavior, succeeds in making his actions comprehensible.

Eden certainly has an impact on the previously calm lives of those who fall prey to her schemes. Thanks to her, the Andersons and Sam find themselves involved with the police, with a shady art dealer, and with a disgruntled buyer who wants his money back by fair means or foul. As I noted above, she is a memorable character.

Safe Harbor is a most entertaining contemporary romance. It has great characters, a satisfying love story, and just enough suspense to keep the story moving. It also has a delightfully drawn setting as the author brings Martha’s Vineyard to life. I now understand fully why my friend likes Stockenberg’s books so much. She’s very, very good.

--Jean Mason


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